Showing posts with label Muggia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muggia. Show all posts

27 September 2023

Vittorio Vidali - communist revolutionary

One-time Russian agent ultimately elected Italian deputy and senator

Vittorio Vidali became an agent of the Russian Communist Party
Vittorio Vidali became an agent of
the Russian Communist Party
The revolutionary Vittorio Vidali, who operated as a secret agent of the Russian communists in the United States, Mexico and Spain, was born on this day in 1900 in the coastal town of Muggia, near Trieste.

Known at various times by at least five different names, he was implicated in the murder of a fellow agent and in an attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky, although in neither case could his involvement be proved. After returning to Italy at the end of World War Two, he served as a deputy and then a senator in the Italian parliament.

Vidali was politically active from an early age, joining the Socialist Youth movement in Trieste at the age of 16. At 20 he was one of the founders of the youth federation of the Italian Communist Party. In the same year - 1921 - he was arrested for his part in rioting at the San Marco shipyards where his father worked.

He became a target for Mussolini’s Blackshirts after organising, with others, an anti-fascist paramilitary group, and fled Italy in 1922, to Germany and then New York, where he met the Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

From New York he travelled to Russia, becoming involved with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and their international wing, known as Comintern, which had agents operating around the world in their attempt to spread the communist doctrine.

Vidali became romantically involved with Tina Modotti, a glamorous former actress
Vidali became romantically involved with
Tina Modotti, a glamorous former actress
Comintern sent Vidali to Mexico on a mission to bring discipline to the Mexican Communist Party. There he is thought to have become infatuated with Tina Modotti, a former model and silent movie actress originally from Udine in Italy, who had been living in San Francisco and moved to Mexico to work as a photographer. She too was a communist activist.

When Modotti’s lover, Julio Antonio Mella , one of the founders of the Communist Party of Cuba, was shot dead at point blank range while walking with her, some witnesses claimed that Vidali was with the couple and even that it was he who carried out the killing. 

He had plausible motives, both personal and political, given his own interest in Modotti and Mella’s association with Trotskyists, to whom the Stalinist Comintern was hostile. Yet, although they questioned and released Modotti, the Mexican authorities charged another man, José Agustín López, a criminal with no political associations, with the murder. The accepted version of events, in Cuban history in any event, is that Mella’s death was ordered by the Cuban president, Gerardo Machado.

Vidali left Mexico for Spain.  Working under the name Carlos Contreras, he teamed up with Enrique Castro Delgado to create the so-called "Fifth Regiment" responsible for the defence of Madrid against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, and organised the production of a daily newspaper to provide information for those fighting for the Spanish Democratic Republic.  At the same time, in a more sinister side to his activities on behalf of Comintern, he is said to have arranged for a number of pro-Trotsky operatives on the republican side to be eliminated.

He returned to Mexico in 1940, not long before Trotsky was killed. He was suspected of being involved in a failed assassination attempt at Trotsky’s residence in Mexico City. He was also thought to have facilitated the infiltration into Trotsky’s inner circle of the Stalinist operative Ramón Mercader, who entered Trotsky’s study and killed him with an ice axe later in the same year.  

Vidali served for 10 years in the Italian parliament
Vidali served for 10 years in
the Italian parliament
Modotti, who was expelled from Mexico in 1930, rejoined Vidali in Spain and returned with him to Mexico under a false name. She herself died suddenly in 1942, suffering a cardiac arrest while returning home from a social engagement in a taxi. There were rumours that Vidali, despite the intimate nature of their relationship, had her killed simply because she knew too much about his activities in Spain.

By 1947, Vidali was back in his home country, returning to Trieste. After the postwar settlement saw the long-disputed city established as the Free Territory of Trieste, Vidali became one of the most powerful members of the Communist Party there, conducting a purge of Titoists within the organisation following Stalin’s split with the Yugoslav leader. 

After Trieste became part of Italy again in 1954, Vidali had ambitions to serve as a Communist in the Italian Parliament from the area. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1958 and to the Senate in 1963, sitting until 1968.  He died in Trieste at the age of 83.

The harbour at the quaint seaside town of Muggia, the only Istrian town to remain part of Italy
The harbour at the quaint seaside town of Muggia,
the only Istrian town to remain part of Italy
Travel tip:

At the time of Vidali’s birth, the coastal town of Muggia - situated 12km (7 miles) by road from Trieste - belonged to the part of the Austria-Hungary empire known as the Istrian peninsula, which includes a number of beautiful towns and cities such as Pula, Rovinj, Perec and Vrsar. It was partitioned to Italy in the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920 following the First World War. In the Second World War it became a battleground for rival ethnic groups and political groups. It was occupied by Germany but with their withdrawal in 1945  Yugoslav partisans gained the upper hand and Istria was eventually ceded to Yugoslavia. It was divided between Croatia and Slovenia following the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991. Nowadays, Muggia remains the only former Istrian town that is part of Italy. A charmingly quaint fishing port, Muggia’s main attractions are its Duomo, dedicated to the saints John and Paul, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and its 14th century castle, which stood abandoned for 200 years but has been restored by the sculptor, Villi Bossi. 

The sea-facing Piazza Unita d'Italia is the oldest and most elegant square in Trieste
The sea-facing Piazza Unita d'Italia is the oldest
and most elegant square in Trieste
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.  The city has a coffee house culture that dates back to the Hapsburg era.  Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830.

Also on this day:

1552: The birth of writer and actor Flaminio Scala

1871: The birth of Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda

1966: The birth of musician Jovanotti

1979: The death of actress and writer Gracie Fields

September 27 was the chosen birthday of Cosimo de’ Medici, born in 1389